Here is the transcript of an interview on the C-SPAN program Q&A, on Feb. 12, 2006, a mere 5 1/2 months after Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Holloway appeared on the program while in Washington, D.C. to speak before the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Biloxi, Mississippi, Mayor A.J. Holloway, what do you think of first when you think of Katrina hitting your town?
MAYOR A.J. HOLLOWAY (R), BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI: The devastation. I always keep coming back to East Biloxi. East Biloxi got hit the hardest, and that’s the oldest part of town, it’s where the poorest people live. That’s where Biloxi started. We have the black, we have the Vietnamese, and we have the white, we have some Hispanic, we have some people that have lived down there all of their lives in the same house for 60, 70 years, gone, absolutely gone.
People that lived off of Social Security alone, no other income, houses gone. How are we going to get these people back? People are living in apartments in that section of town, a lot of apartments down there. Where are these people going to go to? How are they going to get back?
We are going to have a problem or an issue with elevation – with FEMA, elevation, that’s low, that’s on the tip of a peninsula. Biloxi is a peninsula. That’s on the very east end of it, five-, six-, seven-, eight-, 10-foot elevation in that area. FEMA is going back at 18, 22, things like that. That’s high.
Construction cost us 25, 35, 40 percent more they tell me. Construction cost goes up every day down there with materials, carpenters are now making $25, $30 an hour.
So that’s where I keep coming back to, you know, how are we going to fix this? How are we going to do this in East Biloxi? Some lots of 29 feet, 30 feet, 35 feet, they won’t fit our codes anymore, they won’t fit the setbacks. How are we going to fix that?
Are we going to take our codes away and go back? Are we going to give them variances or are we going to make them buy more property? And a lot of people, where have they gone? Where are they?
LAMB: How many people lived in Biloxi before the…
HOLLOWAY: Before Katrina, I’m saying anywhere between 53,000 to 55,000 people.
LAMB: How many are there right now?
HOLLOWAY: I don’t know. The only thing that I can gauge it on is by the number of the school population. Last year we had about 6,300 to 6,600. This year we started off with about 3,000, it’s up to about 4,500 now.
LAMB: Go back to the hurricane itself. Where were you?
HOLLOWAY: I was at city hall. I usually stay at home. I have been through three hurricanes since I have been mayor.
LAMB: Which ones?
HOLLOWAY: Georges, Ivan, and Katrina. I lived in the same house today that I lived in in Camille. And I stayed in Camille. Camille was the benchmark, Camille was the measuring point. That’s what everybody said, well, I was in Camille, I’m not worried about – nothing could be worse than Camille.
HOLLOWAY: ’69. So we are not leaving. We are going to stay here. We begged them to leave because we had been getting reports that it’s going to be bad, it’s going to be bad. I interviewed with Jim Cantore twice that day.
LAMB: CNN – I mean, The Weather Channel.
HOLLOWAY: The Weather Channel.
HOLLOWAY: See him on The Weather Channel. He told me that afternoon when I went back, he said, this is bad. He said, Mayor, he said, this is worse than Camille right now, and it’s still a pretty good ways away. He said, all the ingredients are there. It’s bad.
And when I left – when I was leaving, he told me, he said, drive down and look at your city because you won’t see it like this tomorrow. And he was right.
LAMB: How long have you been mayor?
HOLLOWAY: I’m starting my first year of my first – fourth term. So I have been mayor – I’m going to four four-year terms, 16 years, I’m in my 13th year now.
LAMB: Is it a full-time job?
HOLLOWAY: Full-time job. We have mayor – strong mayor, council form of government. We have seven councilmen, they set the policy, I’m the CEO, and carry out the day-to-day operations of the planning.
LAMB: Why do you want to be mayor?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, it goes back a long time. I have always been interested in politics. I have always been in the public. I was schoolteacher, coach, before I got in I was in the restaurant business and the banking business.
So, you know, I have always dealt with people. And so I ran for the city council and got elected to the city council. And then we didn’t have – we weren’t very well off in Biloxi. We had – we were in a bad condition there. We were in bankruptcy and didn’t know it.
Our tourist industry was gone. Our seafood industry was not doing well. The only thing – the only savior we had was Keesler Air Force Base was there. And, of course, a lot of our people worked at Pascagoula shipyard at the time, the Ingalls, which is Northrop Grumman now.
LAMB: How far is Pascagoula from…
HOLLOWAY: Oh, about 16 miles down the road.
LAMB: And how far are you by car from New Orleans?
HOLLOWAY: About 80 miles, 75, 80 miles.
LAMB: Keesler, I understand, had some Hurricane Hunters there.
HOLLOWAY: Keesler was home to the Hurricane Hunters, and they are home to the 2nd Air Force and 81st Wing. They have the second – did have the second-largest medical center in the Air Force. There was a teaching hospital also where doctors went on and got advanced degrees at Keesler Air Force Base there.
It was very important to our community. We just got through finishing a BRAC – a round of BRAC where they wanted cut Keesler’s Medical Center down to an outpatient clinic. And we beat that. We beat it. We went to BRAC hearings and I enlisted a three-star general who retired from Keesler, who was at a Keesler as a wing commander and as a 2nd Air Force commander. And he retired out at Randolph Air Force Base, and he came back to Biloxi, very good citizen.
I enlisted him to head up our BRAC committee. And he did a tremendous job. And through his contacts, no doubt in my mind, through his contacts he saved Keesler. Then Camille – I mean, Katrina comes and destroys it. But the Air Force is going to put it back just like it was before. Keesler took a very big hit.
LAMB: So where were you born?
HOLLOWAY: I was born in Biloxi, Mississippi.
LAMB: Been there all your life?
HOLLOWAY: Been there all my life except when I was out for college. And then the first job I took out of college I was coaching and teaching up in North Mississippi.
LAMB: OK. Here is the image I want to talk to you about. What years were you at the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss?
HOLLOWAY: I was at Ole Miss from ’59 to ’62.
LAMB: You played football.
LAMB: What did you play in 1960 when you were national champs?
HOLLOWAY: I played – I was – of course, those days we went both ways, you know. I was a running back and a linebacker. And a halfback – defensive halfback.
LAMB: Here is what – and it said in one of your bios that I saw that really is an interesting image, that while you were on the football field, Trent Lott was a cheerleader. But right before that, the year before you went there in ’59, Thad Cochran graduated from Ole Miss, and he was a cheerleader.
HOLLOWAY: And he was a cheerleader.
LAMB: So your two United States Senators were cheerleaders while you were on the football field. And they are both up here in Washington.
HOLLOWAY: That’s correct.
LAMB: And what role have they played for you in Biloxi during this…
HOLLOWAY: Oh, they have been great. I mean, they have worked with us and they have tried to do as much they possibly can. You know, if – you have to say that Senator Cochran, in the position that he is as appropriation chairman, from everything I have been told, and not only by his people and the people in Mississippi, but other people from other states, if it had not been for his leadership, we wouldn’t be where we are today with the package that was signed into law.
I don’t know if it has been signed, I will take that back, but has passed the Congress and Senate, the package of relief aid, block grant funds, the tax credits to entice businesses to build back, the –everything that is in that package is his doing, he pushed it through.
What was recommended was a $17 billion package, I believe he got it up to about $34 billion. That’s for…
LAMB: For Biloxi or for Mississippi?
HOLLOWAY: No, no, that’s for Mississippi and Louisiana and Alabama. That’s the total package for the Gulf Coast region, or the GO Zone, as it’s referred to.
LAMB: And did you know Trent Lott or Thad Cochran when you were living down there?
HOLLOWAY: Didn’t know Thad, but I knew Trent. We played football against – Trent played football in high school and we played against each other in high school.
LAMB: And has he – what has he done in this thing?
HOLLOWAY: Well, he has been very instrumental in working – he was the one that really got the GO thing through, from what I can understand, the incentive package for the business appreciations and what other incentives that comes with it.
LAMB: People from the outside look down at what happened in Katrina and they see a lot of Democrats in Louisiana, and a lot of connected Republicans in Mississippi. Louisiana got all the publicity. Mississippi has all the political clout. Haley Barbour…
LAMB: … head of the Republican National Committee now the governor of the state, and your two senators. Do you feel that when you are down there? Do you feel the difference between the two states?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, I see a lot of Louisiana on TV and the newspaper. And, you know, their big – New Orleans is a big city. You know, it’s well-recognized worldwide. So naturally that they would probably get more publicity.
But I believe that if you would take the destruction on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and follow it back up as it goes to Laurel, Hattiesburg, and we had 100-mile-an-hour winds up to Jackson, Mississippi, which is 150-mile-an-hour – 150 miles away. You know, I think you would see as much destruction if not more in that area there.
LAMB: Your office…
HOLLOWAY: We had two different kinds of hurricanes. I mean, if the levees do not fail in New Orleans, they don’t get any water. We get water. We got a tidal surge of 25 to 35 feet along 150-mile-an-hour wind.
LAMB: I want to show some video that you – your office had. And you made up the story, “Resolve & Resilience (ph),” your office did that, and for what purpose? Who sees this?
HOLLOWAY: Well, we – my public affairs manager, Vincent Creel, who was – worked on that long and hard and tiresome, and also was putting together a book, and he shot some of the film that – he stayed at city hall along with us, my wife and my family.
And we hired a company to put it together for us and do some other stuff. But it was his idea to do it.
LAMB: Let’s watch a minute and 20 seconds of it. It has got some music to it, I think. And this was all recorded during the hurricane.
LAMB: From time to time I see you describe how much debris has been cleared. The last thing I read was if you took a football field and 70 stories high, you have cleared that much debris. I assume it has moved from there?
HOLLOWAY: It has probably moved quite a bit from there, yes. That was I think when we had a million cubic yards. It was on a football and it would go 48 stories, I think. So they just kept going up on the stories. I would say we are probably – debris just never ends.
I mean, we got a lot of places that people have never even come back to yet, haven’t started to clean up there inside of their houses that may be standing. They haven’t touched their yards. We go in – we have a – we can go have a right of entry to an individuals property if they sign for us to go in. But if they are not there and they don’t sign, we are not going in.
LAMB: How many structures were destroyed?
HOLLOWAY: I would say 6,000 structures, 5,000 totally just destroyed and 2,500 was borderline, so it’s probably at least 6,000.
LAMB: A couple – before Katrina happened, you were getting between 10 million and 12 million visitors a year to Biloxi. That’s almost as many as come – that come to Washington to the Air & Space Museum, which is the most-visited museum in the world. Why so many people? What’s the main reason to come to Biloxi?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, as I said earlier, we weren’t doing too well back in the late – early ’80s and early ’90s until casino gaming was voted legal in 1992. And, of course, we never dreamed that it would be as successful as it is. You know, all the indications were, all the studies that we could afford or could support three riverboat-size casinos.
LAMB: Did it have to be on the water then?
HOLLOWAY: Has to be on the water.
HOLLOWAY: No, no, not anymore, not since Katrina. It has been moved onshore since Katrina. But before it had to be on barges. They came in first with the small riverboats. And people were waiting in line for hours and hours, and paying to get on.
So the next one comes – the next round of it was huge barges the size of football fields. And on that they had built a gaming casino, and have a couple of restaurants in it. Then they made it mandatory that they have at least a 250-room hotel. And as much as 100 percent investment on land as you had on the water, on your casino barge.
So then they started building the 500,000 – hotel rooms, four or five restaurants in them – in the casinos, and then of course, along came Beau Rivage with 1,800 rooms, and the Imperial Palace with 1,200 rooms. And it has just been snowballing like that.
We were receiving from gross gaming revenues about $20 million a year. Now that’s not including the sales tax or the property taxes.
LAMB: You – the city, you were receiving $20 million a year?
HOLLOWAY: The city.
LAMB: What’s the gross revenues for all the casinos? How much were they taking in?
HOLLOWAY: It was close to a billion dollars. It hit up to about $800 million, almost $900 million. And this year we would have gone into the billion dollar market in Biloxi.
LAMB: How many different casinos in Biloxi?
HOLLOWAY: We were getting ready to open our 10th casino on September the 1st.
LAMB: I have an article here from The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, your state capital. And this is from December the 23rd, two days before Christmas. It says: “On Thursday, when Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway stepped up to the podium to speak, the restless crowd of hundreds responded with boos and catcalls. But impatient chants of ’open up and let us in’ soon were replaced with the electronic sounds of slot machines were putting over 1,500 people back to work.”
But you would go on to say that “5,000 people were in that casino in the first two hours.” What is the attraction for gambling?
HOLLOWAY: Well, that I don’t know. I don’t gamble.
LAMB: You don’t – never gambled?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, yes, yes. But I haven’t in quite a while. I used to play a little blackjack, but my wife would take $20 and go to the slot machines, she would be back in 10 minutes.
But anyway, it’s just attractive to people. And those people just weren’t from Biloxi. I mean, probably the 70 percent of them were from Louisiana and Alabama and Florida. And the reason they were booing and hollering and screaming was because we were supposed to open at 9:00 and they didn’t start opening until 11:00. So they go restless.
LAMB: So they didn’t want to hear a speech from you, they just wanted in.
HOLLOWAY: No, I told them I’m not going to give you speech today, you know. I went up there and said, let’s get going.
LAMB: How fast did the gambling casinos come back?
HOLLOWAY: Well, Imperial Palace is up 100 percent. They got all of their facility back up and operating, with the exception maybe of a couple of hundred rooms that they still are working on. And they are doing a tremendous of business there.
The Isle of Capri is back with – in their entertainment section where they had all of their shows and break-out rooms for conventions and so forth, that had meetings there. They collapsed all those and made their casino there. And I don’t know how many positions they have, the number of slots and the number of table games or the poker room. But they are doing good. And they – I believe they started off probably with about 600 to 700 employees out of their 1,500.
The Palace Casino, right down the street, is a little smaller and not as quite as big as the Isle of Capri, and they started off probably around 350, 400 employees.
LAMB: After the dust settles on this, will you have more gambling, more casinos in town?
HOLLOWAY: No doubt in my mind that you are going to have quite a few more casinos in town.
LAMB: How did you get the state to allow you to build these casinos on land?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, we have been talking about it several years. You know, we always said that one of these days we are going to have a storm that’s going to cripple the industry here. And we need to find a way to protect it.
You know, we even – a group of us took a trip to Galveston to see the wall out there. And, you know, we thought of ways, how we could do it. We have a barrier island out there, what’s called Deer Island, which sits in front of the casinos that start – when the casinos start, the island keeps going up.
And we were thinking about maybe building a wall – a seawall behind the island there and try to knock some of the surge down that comes. We never expected a Katrina. But, you know, during Georges, the casinos that were there at that time, and I can’t remember what year that was, I know Treasure Bay was put out of business for three or four months.
And the Beau Rivage wasn’t open, but the Isle of Capri was, and they were put out of business for several weeks, and so was the Casino Magic. And so we knew that, you know, with a Category 2 or 3 – and they say that Category 3 was Katrina, I can’t believe that. But anyway…
LAMB: It was a 5.
HOLLOWAY: I think it was a 4. It was a 5 at one time. But I think it was a 4. I know – and it was so big and so massive, it just stayed for six hours, it blew hurricane gale force winds.
LAMB: What did you do at the city hall with – your wife was there with you?
HOLLOWAY: My wife was there, and my son and my brother and my mother, and a couple of city employees, and a city councilman was there.
LAMB: Where were you in the city hall?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I was in my office which is on the second floor from council room, is right there also. It’s a three-story Italian marble building. It was built back right around the turn of the century, used to be a federal courthouse and a mail – a post office and federal courthouse.
And so I felt safe there. Camille was all right there. It didn’t get any water in Camille. This time the water came on our porch, on city hall’s porch and lapped right at the door there, but it did not get inside the building.
LAMB: What was the reaction to all this from your wife?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, she is a pretty steady person. She’s very calm and very level-headed and can think quick and good. And so she was all right. We had our granddaughters there. The oldest one, 10-year-old, got kind of – she has cried several times, got kind of shook up. The 8-year-old one, it didn’t bother her at all.
LAMB: Was there any loss of life in Biloxi?
HOLLOWAY: Yes. We – I’m – the coroner has not released any of the number of fatalities. He has for the – we know what for the state at this time. I believe it is over 200. But I would – I’m thinking probably around 50 in Biloxi.
LAMB: And they died why?
HOLLOWAY: They drowned in their homes or in buildings that they went to. One of them was – or several of them, I believe five, at least five homeless people that lived and stayed around East Biloxi section of Biloxi, tried to take refuge in an old hotel, a closed hotel. And they died in there, and they drowned.
But I don’t know – that’s one of the buildings that one of the casino barges broke loose and hit and knocked the façade off of it. The façade rammed through the building pretty good, hit it.
LAMB: We have some more video of the scenes, more damage scenes. This is about two-and-a-half minutes. We will let the audience see it from your – the video you provided to us while we talk about this.
What did you do right after the storm had left the area?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, we have a balcony on city hall. And I would go out back and forth and hold on to the railings and look down. And we could see what was going on. When the water started coming up we could see the debris coming up with it. And I could start recognizing parts of buildings that was coming off the town green, and vehicles that were floating up.
And then a whole – one of the small cafes there, the whole building started coming up the street. Then ice machines from the restaurants down below on the beach, and different debris that we could see and identify and know where they were coming from.
LAMB: What’s this?
HOLLOWAY: That’s the Golden Fisherman. Now that’s the only – that’s the very point of East Biloxi, the peninsula, the way he was standing there. We had just moved from downtown Biloxi to that location this past summer.
LAMB: What was the federal government’s reaction to this? And how many times has George Bush been to your town?
HOLLOWAY: Bush has been down there about seven times.
LAMB: To Biloxi?
HOLLOWAY: No, no. To Biloxi he has been there at least two times.
LAMB: And have you talked to him?
LAMB: And what is your reaction to the way he treated you down there?
HOLLOWAY: Well, there he is right there. And that’s when I was with him. And we walked to the streets there. And when he got in, he told me – you know, he said, I have seen the TV spots. I have seen – I flew over your city twice before I landed, and it’s unbelievable. You cannot comprehend the demolition that we see here. And to put it in his own words, what he said, he says, you can’t imagine, you can’t imagine this until you get your feet in it.
LAMB: What is your feeling about the job that he did for your area?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, that’s a tough job, the president of the United States. And I’m sure that he has done and is trying to do as much as he possibly can.
LAMB: That’s you on the left?
HOLLOWAY: Yes. And that was Governor Barbour and Senator Cochran. And Governor Barbour has done a tremendous job working.
LAMB: Well, one statistic I have heard is that the – on a per person basis the people of Mississippi have gotten about $120,000 on this, and the people of Louisiana have gotten about half of that. I mean, there has been a lot more money flowing per capita into Mississippi. Is that…
HOLLOWAY: Well, that’s what they claim. I don’t know. I can’t say yea or nay to that.
LAMB: So what happens…
HOLLOWAY: But that’s what Louisianans say.
LAMB: What would a person have gotten if they lived in Biloxi and they lost everything? What kind of help would they have gotten?
HOLLOWAY: Well, first of all they would have gotten $2,000 from FEMA. Then when the Red Cross came in, the Red Cross gave money to the people. How much I don’t know. So much per family – I mean, per family member I guess it what it was. And then, you know, other faith-based organizations have come in and given money, give $100, $200, and they give them in cards, like the Wal-Mart card and things of that nature.
But as far as, you know, the ones that got wiped out, I don’t know of anything that they have actually gotten to where they go and go back. Now the legislation that was passed, the way I understand it is if you had – if you lived in a – not in a flood zone. If you weren’t in a flood zone and you flooded and you didn’t have flood insurance, then you were eligible up to $150,000 less any insurance you collect.
And I’m not exactly sure the whole mechanism of the bill. But if you were in flood zone, then you aren’t eligible to receive any of that. Now some people were in a flood zone, had flood insurance, had wind insurance too, and the insurance is paying – the flood insurance is paying you, but the wind insurance is saying, no, you get money from the flood, then you are not eligible, the wind didn’t cause all your damage, so you are not going to get any wind insurance, or if you do, you get very little.
LAMB: What do you say to someone who is watching and saying, you know, they – those folks that live down there know that they are vulnerable to hurricanes. Why should the federal government have to pay money, you know, if things go bad down there? They are going to rebuild again, there is going to be another hurricane.
HOLLOWAY: Yes. Well, you know, I’m sure there are a lot of people that feel that way. But, you know, I think that the federal government needs to be very careful of how they do this because they are going to be at disasters all over, and that’s one thing that scares me, if the government is going to have enough money to give everybody the help that they need now. Because it’s just hard to comprehend just how much money it’s going to take to get us back. And you can’t expect the federal government – or the local governments to do everything for you.
LAMB: What has happened to your treasury in Biloxi?
HOLLOWAY: Well, we don’t really know right now. As I said, the – we have these three casinos back up producing – going to be producing some type of revenue stream, nowhere near what it was before.
Every day a little business goes back, but the major businesses, all of the large – we had about 20,000 hotel/motel rooms in Biloxi. Right now the inventory is about 5,000. Parts of those buildings are going to go off the tax roll. A lot of property is going to go off the tax roll.
So we are just going to have to wait and see what kind of tax collections we have starting – well, this month started paying the taxes and see what happens. I predict that we are probably going to see one of the biggest tax sales in the history of the state of Mississippi in Biloxi come August when we have the tax sales.
LAMB: The mayor of the town has what kind of power?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I’m not sure exactly what kind of power you are talking about. But I do the day-to-day operations of the city. And hire and fire…
LAMB: I mean, your council – seven council members?
HOLLOWAY: Seven council members.
LAMB: And are you elected by the community or by the council?
HOLLOWAY: No, I’m elected city-wide.
LAMB: And how big did you win?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I didn’t have any opposition this past year.
LAMB: Have you ever had any opposition?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, yes. Yes, I had tough opposition the first time. There was three of us running. And I won that by 17 votes. And the next time I won by 60-something percent. And the next time I won by 58 percent.
LAMB: If you were to be – it’s impossible for you to be totally objective, but if you step outside of your own environment there and look back at your job, why do people – why didn’t you have any opponents and why are you a four-time winner in the city?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, I’m very conservative. I…
LAMB: What does that mean?
HOLLOWAY: Well, that means that we took care of the money. We had our treasury in good shape, in good condition. We lowered the taxes every year for about four or five years there until we – our tax (INAUDIBLE) is 50 percent of what it was it was when I took office. And we have been very successful.
LAMB: After the hurricane though, when you are sitting there as mayor, what was your – you know, as you looked around the world, who did you go to first for help outside of your area?
HOLLOWAY: Of course, we looked from FEMA, we looked for the Salvation Army, we looked for the Red Cross to be the first responders in there to come.
LAMB: Did they talk to you personally?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, yes.
LAMB: So I mean, did somebody pick up – did you pick up the phone and call the Red Cross or did they call you?
HOLLOWAY: Well, we had contact before the storm, you know. We have a plan and we worked the plan before the storm. You know, we contact all those officials. We set up the shelters with the Red Cross. And we – they know – the Red Cross comes in not as quick as the Salvation Army hits the ground and starts feeding people, but they came in with their volunteers from all over the United States and set up their pods and distribution centers and set up their – everybody had distribution centers, churches. We were getting all this stuff in from all over. And the Red Cross had theirs, Salvation had theirs.
LAMB: What grade would you give FEMA?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I would say I would give FEMA a 75.
HOLLOWAY: Well, because I know how they work and I know how they operate. And, you know, they are a bureaucratic organization. They have rules and have regulations. And they have to go by them. People don’t want to listen to that. They don’t want to hear that. They think they can come in and do everything right away.
You know, FEMA is an organization that most of the employees are first responders from California, New Mexico, New York, that had come in and worked for three or four weeks and have to get back to their other jobs. They are temporary, come in, and then some of them come in, are temporary, there for three to five to six months.
They are architects. They are engineers. They are counselors (ph) and people like that that come in and work FEMA and work it. And they have to go by the manual. And they can’t deviate from it.
Now maybe you can get somebody to the top and get something done a little bit quicker. But you know, Congress hollers and screams about FEMA, yet they are the ones that put the laws in there. They are the ones that tell them what to do.
LAMB: So after this hurricane hits you, Katrina hit Biloxi, FEMA, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, what did the state do?
HOLLOWAY: Well, the state has MEMA, which is a Mississippi emergency agency. And they work with FEMA. And when FEMA gets their money, it comes to MEMA, and MEMA distributes it. It doesn’t come by from the Treasury of the United States, it come through the state.
LAMB: Was money put in the city’s till right away to do something?
HOLLOWAY: We got some money in our till when we got settled for our debris removal.
LAMB: Who contracted with the debris removal…
HOLLOWAY: I contracted with them.
LAMB: And how did that process work?
HOLLOWAY: OK. What we did before, we set up a – what we called a standby contract with a debris-removing contract for 70 hours immediately following the storm where they can come on ground the next day and start pushing debris and get it out of the way where we can have access to the main thoroughfares in the city.
And we bid that out at the first – of the city (ph) of the year, in June. We will do that again this year. We will bid it out. And they don’t go to work unless there is a storm.
LAMB: And where are they based?
HOLLOWAY: Well, we had some business from different places, but the one that got the contract was based in Biloxi. Then that gives us time to put them to work where we can take bids. And we took bids and advertised as much as we possibly could advertise and get the bids in and award them as quickly as possible to get the debris contract moving.
LAMB: How much did it cost you up until now just to clear debris?
HOLLOWAY: It’s right around $30 million right now.
LAMB: And how much do you think it’s going to cost before you get it all cleaned up, and how far do you have to go?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I was predicting $50 million to $60 million, it may be more than that though, because it – as I said, debris is – a lot of it has not even been touched yet. And as it does, it’s coming out as we pick up, it comes out some more.
LAMB: And who will end up – is that a federal tab?
HOLLOWAY: That’s a federal tab right now, 100 percent. And that 100 percent expires on March the 15th. Now so far the president has extended that 30 days at a time to the last time he extended 45 days.
And I have a feeling that this is probably going to be the last extension. Now it’s possible that he would extend, but I kind of doubt it. But then we would go back down to a 90-10 where the government would pay 90 percent, the state would pay 5 percent, and the local government of the city would pay 5 percent.
LAMB: By the way, what happened to your new $32 million high school?
HOLLOWAY: It’s in good shape.
LAMB: It didn’t have a problem?
HOLLOWAY: Well, no, it did not get water in it. We had two new schools that did get water in it. But the high school is in pretty – you know, it got some wind damage and so forth, but…
LAMB: Did you build that high school, what year was it opened?
HOLLOWAY: It has just been opened – this may be the third year.
LAMB: Did you build it for a hurricane?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, yes. We built it to stand 150 mile-an-hour wind.
LAMB: Who was the first casino operator to get in contact with you after this was over? And were all the casinos destroyed?
HOLLOWAY: No, they weren’t all destroyed. They were heavily damaged. The Treasure Bay was completely destroyed. And the President Casino is completely destroyed. And it looks like the Magic Casino is completely destroyed.
I have not – that’s the only casino I haven’t had much contact with. I don’t know those – the owners of that very well at all. But the rest of them will be going back into business as quickly as possible.
Beau Rivage is planning on opening on August the 29th, the first anniversary of Katrina. The Grand Casino, which is Harrah’s Corporation, is planning on opening a temporary facility in their Bayview Hotel, which is across 90, on shore, probably in July, they are shooting for around July.
Palace and Isle of Capri will be working on their new casinos, which will not be on land or on shore, but they will be on pylon (ph) up 38 feet above the sea level.
LAMB: And didn’t Harrah’s announce they were going to build one there?
HOLLOWAY: Harrah’s has announced that they are going to put some big casino, and it’s a lot of money, into the city of Biloxi project.
LAMB: Are there other towns down there on the Gulf that have casinos like yours?
HOLLOWAY: Gulfport has one casino – has none now, they had two. They had a Harrah’s and a Copa, a locally owned casino. And Harrah’s is not going to build back there. And Copa has purchased Harrah’s properties that are not on the state port. And they plan on going back where Harrah’s was.
LAMB: It may sound like a silly question to a mayor of a town that, what, is the third-largest casino area in the country after Las Vegas and Atlantic City?
LAMB: What do you think of the business?
HOLLOWAY: I think it’s good business. I think it’s clean. I think it’s environmentally friendly. It’s – the casinos are very good corporate neighbors. They have been – all of them are very active – well, not all, but most of them were very active in the community. They are members of the Chamber of Commerce, symphony orchestra, the foundations, the Boys and Girls Clubs. You know, they support everything, the museums…
LAMB: Because of the casinos…
HOLLOWAY: … the arts.
LAMB: … being there, is your area, your community richer than a lot of the other communities along the Gulf?
HOLLOWAY: Yes, it is.
LAMB: What do you see as the difference because all that business is there compared to the others?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I’m not sure what you are asking there.
LAMB: Well, do you have more of a financial base, a better tax base?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, yes.
LAMB: Do you have better schools, all of those kind of things?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, yes, yes, yes, we do. We have got a $90 million school improvement project that we have been doing over the last five or six years. It’s almost complete. You know, we have a $10 million public safety building that we built. We have a $10 million new sports complex that we built. We have – we didn’t charge any fees for any of our recreational activities whatsoever. We buy all the uniforms, all the – everything. They just go out and play.
We – as I said, we lowered taxes and we just do a lot more for our citizens that we can afford to do that the other cities can’t, you know?
LAMB: Let me go back to your days at Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, Oxford. Again, you were there ’59 through ’62?
LAMB: James Meredith, ’62, first black to go to the University of Mississippi. Were you there then and do you remember that incident?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I was there.
LAMB: What was your reaction to it then?
HOLLOWAY: Well, it was quite scary. You know, we were on campus, a lot of students weren’t there yet. We were up practicing football, two-a-day, getting ready for the season, when it started. And then when it did happen we were in school, I don’t think classes had started yet. But Meredith came on campus.
And, of course, the National Guard was all there. They had tents pitched all over the practice field and the golf course. And I don’t know how many troops were there, but they had a lot of them. And, of course, they snuck Meredith in on the campus somewhere and nobody knew where it was.
We know the thing broke loose that night, that people – it wasn’t as much students as it was outside people. People came from all over. And – but we had a lot of students there. We had some football players involved, you know, demonstrating. But just a couple that I know of. And they weren’t – they were trying to help.
But, you know, I mean, tear gas going all over, shots, you could hear the fight – I mean, the guns going off with all – hunkered up, you couldn’t leave the campus. If you got off campus, you couldn’t get back on.
And so it was some very tiring, trying times.
LAMB: What was your personal reaction at the time, do you remember?
HOLLOWAY: I can’t – I don’t remember. I remember seeing Meredith there several times, didn’t have any classes with him, but I had a class where he was getting out of class and I was going to a class. So I passed him, you know, a lot of times. And he didn’t – you know, of course, he had FBI or whoever it was, Secret Service or whoever it was with him, you know, around him all the time.
LAMB: Now was your football all white then?
LAMB: And today how is Ole Miss, is it an integrated football team?
HOLLOWAY: Oh, yes. Uh-huh, it’s probably 60-40 black.
LAMB: And how is it working out down there now?
HOLLOWAY: It’s going good.
LAMB: What about the city of Biloxi, what’s the racial mix there?
HOLLOWAY: The racial mix of Biloxi is about 22 percent black, probably 5 to 8 percent Vietnamese. We have lost a little population, Vietnamese population have moved too. And that’s the population that’s keeping our seafood industry alive.
You know, Biloxi is – was at one time the seafood capital of the world. That’s what Biloxi was renowned for. And most of the white fishermen are out of it. White people still own the processing plants, but very few of them do any fishing.
So the Vietnamese are the ones that is keeping the shrimp business going in the city of Biloxi. And it’s a big business.
LAMB: So if it’s – what, you have as many as 3,000 Vietnamese that live there.
HOLLOWAY: Probably. Probably that or I hope a little more. But what I’m afraid of, you know, is that these processing plants are closing and they are selling to either casino or some condominiums. We have got a real condominium boom going on there now too.
And if we give away all our dock space, they will have to leave. And then they will take their families with them. And that will kill off that population in the city of Biloxi because most of them are related to the seafood industry, but some of them are doctors now, and dentists, and are real industrious people.
And we want them to stay in that area and along with the other ethnic groups that we have in East Biloxi area.
LAMB: Why did the Vietnamese come there in the first place and what year did they come, do you remember?
HOLLOWAY: I’m saying they came in the ’70s. And of course there was – some of them were boat people, some of them just moved there. And they came there for the fishing.
LAMB: Is there any way – do they live in their own groups?
HOLLOWAY: Most of them do. Most of them live in certain areas. They all live close to each other. Like I said, all down in East Biloxi, which used to be the French and Slovenians (ph). And most of those people are old and the younger people, when they would finish school and come back, they wouldn’t go back to the point, they would relocate into other areas of the city. But their parents still lived there, and a lot of them still live there. But it’s very, very few now.
LAMB: What has happened to Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis?
HOLLOWAY: Well, it was damaged pretty good, probably about 60 to 70 percent destroyed. It is building back. They have a lot of help. They have a lot of faith-based people going there and helping them, putting their motor homes and things that they are living in on the properties there, and helping them clean up and tear down what needs to be torn down and so they can start the rebuilding.
LAMB: Now, as you look back on these last few months, what has gone wrong?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I don’t know of anything really going wrong. Things might be – not might be happening as quickly as people like them. You know, my main thing right now is to get Biloxi cleaned up. I just feel that we need to get all the debris out of there as quickly as possible.
And then look at how we are going to rebuild it, and who is going to rebuild it, and who wants to come back and how are they going to come back. As I said earlier, you know, a lot of these people – you know, I keep going back to East Biloxi because that’s where so much destruction is.
Of course, we had destruction at several other areas of the city, but those people are more able to afford to come back, that could help themselves. But a lot of these people can’t help themselves. They don’t have an income stream. They don’t have a job. They are just on Social Security.
LAMB: What happened to your house?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I lost a roof at my house.
LAMB: A complete roof gone?
HOLLOWAY: Yes. Well, you know, the tar paper and – I mean, the shingles and so forth, you know.
LAMB: Is it back to normal yet?
HOLLOWAY: Yes. I have a new roof on. It took me a while. And it leaked. I had a blue roof for a while, and it leaked, and called them back and they put some duct tape on it, but it still leaked.
LAMB: If you were in meeting with – say you had a room full of Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, former cheerleaders from your school when you were playing football, and the president of the United States, and Haley Barbour, very well-connected man, former Republican National Committee chairman and lobbyist in this town.
And you are in the Oval Office, and they look at you and they say – by the way, what does A.J. stand for?
HOLLOWAY: Andrew Joseph.
LAMB: They say, A.J., mayor, tell us what we can do for you, what would you tell them?
HOLLOWAY: Well, I think what I would tell them is through some kind of way see what you can do with the insurance companies. The insurance companies are slow in getting their help to the people.
You know, I mean, I got a check for $8,000 for my home. My roof cost $12,000. I hadn’t gotten anything – an itemized list of what that $8,000 was for. And a lot of people are like that. And then again, the other thing is you had flood insurance and you had wind insurance. You had both of these, paying a flood insurance premium and you were paying a wind and the others things that go with it.
And they said, well, we are going to pay your flood, but we don’t see – it’s all water-related, there is no wind-related. And I think – and they are doing the same thing with city’s properties. We got – damaged a lot of properties and a lot of water and a lot of wind.
And, you know, I think that they need to look more at wind damage, I think, as more wind damage – because that blew for six hours or more hurricane force…
LAMB: What about the people that lost everything, they don’t…
HOLLOWAY: That’s the people…
LAMB: What will you do for them?
HOLLOWAY: That’s the people I’m talking about.
LAMB: I mean, right now though, specifically, are there some that – are they in trailers, are they in hotel rooms, do they have any money to live on?
HOLLOWAY: Well, a lot of them in trailers. And a lot of them are – have a trailer on their properties. And if they had insurance, the insurance company ought to give them something proper, some money to live with, from what I understand.
And they did at first give them temporary housing. Now if they put a FEMA trailer on their property, I don’t know if they still give them money or not for living expenses. But the ones I’m talking about is that the water came and the wind came, and, you know, a lot of roofs were gone before that water came.
You know, I was across city hall, I saw a lot of windows out of buildings before the water came. And in particular right across the street is a library. And several windows – low windows like was out. And water got in, when the water came up, it got in through the windows that were broken already. So that’s wind damage that cause that water to get in their, in my opinion.
LAMB: This is your fourth term, by the way, are you going to run again?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, I don’t know. I was kind of thinking that I might retire. But I just have to wait and see what it looks like at the end of the next three years.
LAMB: And as you look at the job of mayor, what is the best thing about it, and what’s the worst thing about?
HOLLOWAY: Well, the best thing about it is what you can do for your city. And we have done a lot in the past eight, 10 years. The worst part about it I guess is what you can’t do, what you would like to do. Right now it’s just trying to get everything back together.
LAMB: What has been the impact on you? Have you changed any because of this?
HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, I don’t know, my memory is not as good as it used to be, I don’t think. I – right after the storm I lost about three pair of glasses, couldn’t keep a pen, you know, was running around.
Every morning I wake up at 3:00, just like clockwork, 3:00 I’m awake. I got back to catnap a little bit, you know, and then get up at 6:00. But, you know, it’s just to get everything back to normal is going to take a lot.
I think financially the city will be back quicker than a lot of people think it will be. But it’s going to be a long time before a lot of people build back their homes. A lot of people are leaving, they have left, that are not coming back. I say a lot, I know of about seven or eight families that said they are not coming back. They left the state. And so…
LAMB: Why are the casinos so anxious to come back so quickly and spend the billions of dollars they are willing to spend down there in spite of the hurricane?
HOLLOWAY: Well, they know there is a good market there. It’s a strong market. And I think that we are going to see some other casinos come by there. And I believe that’s going to be the tide that lifts all the boats is the casinos. That’s going to be the catalyst. It’s going to be the jobs. They pay good money. A lot of husband-wife teams working. And they could make a real good living.
LAMB: Do you think you will ever go back to gambling yourself anytime?
HOLLOWAY: I kind of doubt it, too old for that.
LAMB: Mayor Holloway, thank you very much for joining us.
HOLLOWAY: Thank you, appreciate it.